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Turn off, unplug, and be still

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Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 11:49 am

I did it. Even though it might make me the last person in Ahwatukee over the age of 9 to do so, I have a smartphone. It was not a case of desire; the screen on my “vintage” phone was so scratched I couldn’t see it, and it turned out I could get the smartphone and pay $10 less per month. I suspect the kid that sold it to me was like a seedy, back alley pusher — “come on, its even cheaper” — and that a smartphone is gateway technology.

It has been a rocky start. I missed my first phone call because I didn’t know what to push to answer. Making and receiving phone calls was on page 25 of the owners manual that I quit reading for lack of understanding at page 6. I do like the map feature; it gives my maleness one more reason not to stop and ask for directions, but I’m not too impressed with the news feed.

On the day North Korea was threatening a nuclear attack on the U.S., the headline was a selfie of Kim Kardashian’s baby bump (by the way, those are two words I could stand never to see together again — I mean, baby bump not Kim Kardashian, but I can be flexible on that one). In the early ’70s, I was majoring in journalism, when the mission statement was about the public’s need to know. Most of what was on the news feed I didn’t need and pretty much didn’t care to know.

We have instant access to more information than any of us needs, and I wonder what it is doing to us, and our communities. I am not alone in that concern. Margaret Wheatley is a management consultant who specializes in chaos theory and organizational behavior. In her most recent book, “So Far From Home,” she writes of the information age as a two-edged sword. We have ready access to the world, but we are more distracted than ever.

Beyond the obvious dangers of distraction: inattentive drivers, pedestrians, and even airline pilots, Wheatley questions whether we have become so distracted that we no longer have any sense of where we are going, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Have we created a Tower of Babel out of the mountain of information so that we are no longer making any real connection to those around us?

There is so much distraction that we have to put some limits on what we take in. The problem, however, is that instead of seeking information that broadens us, we have the ability to fill ourselves up with that which affirms our preconceived notions. We become more isolated and shallow, and everyone else becomes wrong at best and the enemy at worst. This may have been a factor in the Boston Marathon bombing.

Wheatley’s book is a call to awareness. She quotes 13th century mystical poet Rumi, “Sit down and be quiet. You are drunk and this is the edge of the roof.” When I was young, Timothy Leary popularized the phrase, “turn on, tune in and drop out.” These days I would suggest, “turn off, unplug and be still.”

• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.

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